The Great War, the great sacrificial carnage, women tossed their stays into the sea of scrap metal, untying the laces of Victorian propriety. Invisible men, invisible corsets. Corpus. Corps. Body. Field. Corps à la baleine. Metal, silk, leather, lace, whalebone. Body to body. The release of twenty-eight thousand tons of steel, melted down, remolded, then launched in the form of two battleships. Armor. The body must be disciplined, Aphrodite’s reign is running out. The hourglass. Brevity is the soul of lingerie.
Great Aphrodite, her figure as formless as the clean foam that birthed her, as exotic as the penis that hatched her. Born without a Mother, the infinite sea was her cradling womb. A woundless birth. A male fantasy. Her sex flatters the loophole.
The soft and fluid figure eight, the symbol of infinity when lying on her back, holds no firm place in a world of oppositions. Man. Woman. Culture. Nature. Somethingness. Nothingness. The female sex must be reappropriated, bound, held together by the immutable armor of the corseted body. Her lips must always be sealed!
A woman in a corset is a lie, a fiction, a story. Which is certainly not to say the female body does not, cannot, has not ever been a sign of strength, on the contrary, but the corset was worn as an insignia. The club of Eve, feasting on a golden apple. The corset, or rather stays, keeps hidden what has always been hidden, as a form of charity for the fear of the formless. The uncertainty of life.
Kenophobia. Apeirophobia. Thalassophobia. Menophobia. Kolpophobia. Gynophobia.
Fear and desire mapped on the tightly laced torso.
To say her flowing flesh must be disciplined, is to say her flesh must undergo masculinization. Cuirasse Ésthetique, the classical male nude, a corset of muscles, naturally corseted. A hard-bodied shell needs no protection, but a woman wears her organs on the outside. Her heart on her sleeve, her sex in her laces.
A corset is a line of demarcation, a border between life and death, between self and other. To improve posture. Induce the straight spine, a straight line. Atrophy, pain, reliance. Tight-lacing pushes the ribs in and up. Wandering organs. Elongated livers. Triangulated ribs. Constipation. Prolapsed uterus. Diminished lung capacity. Dyspnea. Hysteria. Yellow Wallpaper.
To be corseted is to rely on the corset, is to rely on the accessory respiratory muscles begetting shallow upper-diaphragmatic breathing. To be corseted is to be immobile. To move then is to faint, to swoon. The true petit-mort. Now, she is passive, powerless, desirable. The belle of the ball. A princess in a glass coffin.
Granules of sand falling through the hourglass.
These are the days of our lives.
Lacing becomes a surrogate for sexual intercourse, the body is shaped by a man’s hand. The waist moves from an ellipse to a circle. But the corset is a body, a body that shapes a body, takes its shape from the body. A corset without a body will still retain the shape of the body it once contained. A shell without a yolk, stiff like a waif.
Only the vulnerable shall be devoured. The yolk must grow into the shell, become the eggshell. Hipless. Breastless. Hard and erect, like the corset itself. Unless, of course, she is pregnant.
Unearthly Mary, the amaranthine Mother, perpetually full, but full of grace.
Grace, the natural attribute of women, distending their figures into formless (im)perfection. Embonpoint and barefoot. Holy Uterus, full of Otherness, muttered the weeping virgin.
It truly is uterus.
As the vagina is a scary void, a dark and unnamable abyss, the uterus is separated from her vagina, hovers homeless, suffers phantom vulva. She is reduced to a lonely function. No room for love and desire, only trouble and a desire to love as the licentious vagina loves. The Mother cannot be sexed, hollowed be her name.
Anyone can fulfill the maternal function, man or woman.
Out springs Athena.
To avoid his own undoing, Zeus swallows Meta, but woman’s pain flows into his swollen head. He goes into the woods to hide. He sits near a river, pinching the bridge of his nose. He does not feel full, he feels threatened. Metal scraping skull. Empathetic exhaustion exhausted. He can’t concentrate. Double-vision. His skull cracks, hatches. He thinks of himself, poor Zeus has a migraine. A silver goddess bursts forth. Cloaked, clinked, clinking, angry. Underneath the aegis, a sempiternal corset of muscle.
Born without a Mother, fully clothed and fully formed. There is an immediacy about Athena, a presence, a veritas. In between genders, traversing a strange medial ground, she is not mysterious, only mythological. She too must be made desexed.
Mighty Athena, the straight line, the ray, the vestal. Always reaching outside herself, one step away from her body, cunt shunted.
Athena: a man castrated, an unmanned Goddess.
Aphrodite: a Goddess conceived through the castration of an unmanned Father.
A moment of silence. A moment of epiphany.
Cascades of femininity within a pause. Silence, the landscape of the in between structure. Indelible cursive inscribed on white paper, written in milk, signed with an indistinguishable stain. To be anonymous is to be subversive. The amorphous can commingle with anything, anyone, without annihilating herself. Flow from one woman to the next.
Women, like words, are alive because they transform. They are always becoming, moving like water. The stringent and crippling corset, tight-laced around the waist of words, worn for a taciturnity! These words are forgetting how chaotically tactile they are, how smooth and swollen, how fragmentary and infinite.
From breaking the ironclad chain of masculine referents, the mythologies of hierarchizing oppositions, pinning the chasm underneath the obelisk, the veiled language of profusion can loosen her stays and breathe a sigh of release.
Catherine Borders is the founder and executive editor of Omnia Vanitas Review. She lives in “Chicago” with her husband, daughter, and two very necessary cats. Her first novel, A Suburb of Monogamy,was published with Omnia Vanitas Review in 2016 : it's about the invention, withdrawal, and body of a liaison. Catherine is a struggling nihilist but she believes in art. She wears it like armor. Omnia Vanitas Review is a space for her to disseminate the beauty of its powers.